Monthly Archives: October 2013

Let’s start a conversation…about our bodies

by Greg Rosen

We’ve all been there. Navigating our way in Moulton, we pass the desserts. We immediately begin to drool over the blueberry crumble. For some, ambivalent questions may surface and take control. Did I exercise today? How much am I going to have to work out to burn off these calories? Am I going to get “fat”?

Body consciousness. It exists. It’s real. And unfortunately, we don’t seem to talk about it that openly. Could you imagine yourself having this conversation out loud at Bowdoin? Most people would shun this type of discourse. But this input-output calculus can still take place in our heads. Perhaps because we don’t talk about the problem we become desensitized to the issues.

The input-output function of food doesn’t just happen at the individual level. It happens at a societal level. We live in a culture that equates health with body size. “Fat,” thus, becomes unwanted. We internalize messages – from television, from magazine, from social media – that “looking healthy” is “being healthy.” Nothing is wrong with looking healthy, but prioritizing looking healthy may actually lead us to make unhealthy choices. Take, for instance, body size. If we as a community value one specific body type, our goals and daily functions become systematized around the attainment of that body type. Exercise becomes a task, not a joy. Eating, additionally, can become a tool for molding our bodies into an ideal type, as if our bodies where malleable clay – things that we not only can alter through controlled actions but should be altering.

Most problematic perhaps is the rejection of difference in body discourse. “Fat talk” associates “fat” as being undesirable and unhealthy. Every healthcare practitioner, however, will tell you that body fat is necessary for survival and improves overall health outcomes. It seems we live in a society – and possibly even a world – that has replaced health with image. Looking like the ideal type not only becomes more desirable than being healthy – but it actually comes to define “healthy.”

This is not the message we should be hearing from a heath perspective. People’s bodies change over time, and likewise, their self-awareness of their bodies changes at different points in time. Body size shouldn’t matter to us as long as we are making healthy choices about our body. But what is a “healthy” body choice? In reality, it depends on the individual. Eating a donut to relieve stress can be just as much a healthy choice as eating a salad for lunch to get the necessary nutrients our bodies need to function at their highest level. What matters is context. Health doesn’t just have to be about what types of food we eat. It also has to do with the context in which we are making particular food choices.

Why does being body conscious matter at all? Because being body conscious sucks. But that doesn’t mean we should accept it. Because body consciousness is a product of culture, we have the power to change that culture through our language. Start a conversation: talk to your friends and your family, be mindful of the language you and others around you use when talking about their bodies, and compliment each other. The only way we can change how we talk about our bodies is by actually talking about our bodies – and talking about them in positive ways.

Please and Thank you, thank you very much

by Maeve O’Leary

Remember what your mother said about using your manners? Maybe to your chagrin, but to her satisfaction, she was right. As it turns out, saying “thank you” can provide the most selfish of benefits: making us happier. Even with Thanksgiving a whole month away, studies show there is never a wrong time to express gratitude towards others, whether that be through a simple “thanks” to a stranger, or through calling your mom to thank her for teaching you to use your manners, or through giving a dramatic recitation to your best friend, listing the reasons you love her, giving thanks helps people fell more positive emotions.

Two psychologists at the University of California, Davis, experimented with the theory to research gratitude. In one study they asked all participants to write a few sentences a week, expressing things they were grateful for. A second group wrote about daily irritations affecting them that week. After 10 weeks, the first group felt more optimistic about their lives, exercising more and requiring fewer physician visits, while the second group grew even more aggravated.

In another experiment done by the online video group, Soul Pancake (link below), volunteers were called in to speak about someone for whom they were grateful. After they expressed themselves, they were told to call that person. Results were positive—most subjects ended up moved in some way by the experience, either through laughter or crying or simply touching the one they had called on the telephone. If you’re in the mood to tear up a little in the union, watch the video yourself.

Or if you need an easy pick-me-up, just say the two words: “thank you.”

*Thanks to Emmy Danforth for her video recommendation!

Bowdoin’s Day of Stomp Out Stigma

by Zach Danssaert

I like to think of social stigma as the severe disapproval of a person because of a trait that indicates their deviance from social norms. The sub-conscious need to differentiate people who we consider different from what we construct to be normal is a flaw deeply ingrained in human nature that has led to some of the most devastating historical atrocities. From slavery to the holocaust, we cannot pretend to deny that our innate need to categorize leaves humankind in a far worse state.
While America as a whole has become more accepting with respect to perceived traits such as sexual orientation and race, social stigma remains extremely prevalent. From my experience, the stigmatizer is generally the person with self-esteem issues. By putting someone down, the stigmatizer enhances their self-confidence. For example, a student with bad grades might pick on a smart student by calling the student a nerd to compensate for his or her own inadequacies in the classroom. The negative stereotyping of individuals like the A+ student can cause stigmatized groups to have low self-esteem and depression. So what is being done to diminish the amount of social stigma in America? Large corporations like active minds and your very own Bowdoin College are working hard to make a difference.
For the tenth year in a row active minds will hold its 10th national “Stomp Out Stigma Walk” held at Georgetown University on November 15th. Those who have been affected by stigma, or just want to support friends and family, come together from all around the country to break the silence about social stigma with mental health. On a smaller, but just as important scale, Bowdoin College will be hosting its very own Day Without Stigma. This event will take place over the span of two days. The first day of the campaign a “Stomp Out Stigma” event will take place where a giant sheet of bubble wrap will be placed on the floor of Smith Union where students can come to literally stomp out stigma. For the second day of the event a table at the Union will be giving out anonymous compliment cards to place in friends’ mailboxes. This will serve to promote positive outlooks around campus. Finally, on Tuesday night a movie screening will be held at Mac House playing the film, “When Medicine Got it Wrong,” which is about the revolutionary movement of the treatment of psychiatric patients.

This is Why I’m Limping

Two Bowdoin Peer Healthers, Greg Rosen and Maeve O’Leary took on 26.2 miles at the Maine Marathon this past Sunday. Here are their accounts of the event:


I am not a runner. I was never on a track team, I’ve never had a coach, I’ve never been relied on to perform for a group of people. So when I finally did start running coming into Bowdoin three years ago it became something sacred—something that I did just for me. I would take off down Maine Street and just keep running until I hit the ocean, and just keep going until I found some more.

I can still barely run 3 miles on a treadmill, but as I explored the outskirts of Brunswick and Freeport, I found I could keep going as long as I wanted to as long as I had ocean to look forward to and my friend Helen by my side, chatting all the while. This summer we just kept running until we realized that there was a chance we could keep going until we hit 26.2 miles, the ultimate bucket-list item for both of us.

Running a marathon was harder than I thought it was going to be. I mean, duh it was. But what surprised me during the actual race was what came around mile 22—a new kind of pain I hadn’t felt before that came from just the constant four and some hours of pounding my legs on Yarmouth pavement. It started in my aching Achilles, drifted up my shins, hit my quads, my knees, hamstrings, and finally up to my precious gluts, as Helen and I repeated aloud: we’re doing this, we’re doing this, we’re doing this, to keep us moving.

But the best part, the part they don’t tell you about in training guides, or articles you find when you google “how to run a marathon for swimmers” as I had months before, is that this pain has the power to just disappear upon crossing the finish-line. That even though today I still hobble like Bambi on newborn legs or a senior citizen without her walker, that pain subsided for just a few moments as Helen and I caught each others’ eyes: We did this.


In some sports, they say no amount of training can mimic the conditions or the experience you will have on “game day.” When it came to training for my first marathon, I thought running outside – in the heat, in the frigid cold, and even in the pouring rain – would test my abilities to adapt to the environment and help me push through extreme weather. There was one thing that training could never prepare me for, but it was the one thing that helped me cross the finish line with a huge smile: the sense of community I felt running alongside other people.

I always enjoyed running outside on my own. Running has always been my meditation – a time when I put the world aside entirely and check in with myself, giving myself the time to reflect. Running the 26.2 miles in the company of others, cheering me on as they even passed me on the racecourse, was reaffirming. It made me delighted to keep running, and it gave me the chance to remind myself about why I loved running. Perhaps the best part of this race was having random spectators give me a high five as I sped on past them, or offer me pretzels and fruit when I needed it most (I started crashing around mile 22). I never thought of running as a team sport, but these acts of kindness made the sense of individuality I felt while running disappear. It felt as though the spectators were invested in my running, even though they did not know me, and they were going to do everything in their power to make sure I crossed that finish line. I felt like these strangers were on my team – and they wanted me to win.

What is Peer 2 Peer Anyway???

The first weeks in college are, simply put, overwhelming. Adjusting to classes, meeting new expectations, making new friends, living constantly in the presence of other people, are major changes in a social environment. There are no exceptions when first-years in their initial month on campus are trying to figure out how best to “do Bowdoin.” There is no simple answer, and that’s why people come up with different answers and strategies. That’s what makes everyone’s four years (or so) at Bowdoin so unique.

And one question all first-years must answer is what they want their relationship to be with alcohol. Bowdoin prides itself on bringing together a diverse group of students from different backgrounds and unique experiences, and this diversity certainly holds true with experiences related to alcohol. Some first-years come to Bowdoin self-identifying as “well experienced drinkers,” and others have yet to lay their hands on a finely brewed Natty Light. Whether students at Bowdoin drink or abstain from it, what unifies the Bowdoin experience is making an explicit choice about the relationship you want to have with alcohol.

Why do we have to make a choice about alcohol? Because all social groups on campus, in one way or another, interact with its presence.

Making these choices can be hard, especially when adjusting to a new environment that is college. That’s what prompted Peer Health to launch the Peer 2 Peer program.

Starting Tuesday, Peer Health members will meet with all 495 members of the First-Year class to facilitate conversations about the role of alcohol in the social scene. These conversations are meant to be reflective, in that they are an opportunity for first-years to take a step back, reflect on the interplay of alcohol and social dynamics in their first month at Bowdoin, give first-years an opportunity to set goals for themselves, and ask questions.

Whether you are student who drinks or doesn’t, you can get something out these conversations. Peer Health is here to talk about what you want out of your Bowdoin experience and help you find ways to make the experience you want a healthy and happy one.

Questions about Peer 2 Peer? Email a Peer Health member, or Whitney Hogan, Coordinator of Health Education, at